Just a few years ago, stand-up paddleboarders in Oregon would often get off work and head out to the water by themselves, sticking to their favorite paddle location.
These days, many paddlers of all skill levels use social media — such as the SUP PDX blog, StandUp Portland Facebook group, NW Downwind Hookup, SUP the Gorge, SUP Manzanita and more — to find fellow paddlers and connect to explore new locations on the water, or just to find the latest on conditions, tips and events.
“That’s exactly why we started SUP PDX,” says Brett Downen, a longtime surfer and Portland stand up paddleboarder who started the blog, “To give people a singular place to get together to discuss paddleboarding, and to share where we go, what docks to put in, where are the safest places to paddle in the off-season.”
Look out on the river or lake any day and you’ll see that the sport has grown exponentially, with paddlers of all types and levels of thrill-seeking. You can take the board out with your kids or your dogs for a relaxing day on the lake or coastal bay (using personal floatation devices for all on board, as well as a whistle, hydration and a wetsuit in the winter).
You can get a workout as you paddle through the middle of the city on your lunch break — an especially popular pastime in Bend. You can kneel, sit, stand or do yoga on your board — an exhilarating way to spot wildlife and recharge in nature.
Or you can join (or watch) the relatively new, thrilling sport of downwinding — when experienced paddlers in Hood River or on some parts of the Willamette River ride the current downwind, then shuttle back to the start and do it again. Get inspired at a race this spring, such as the Willamette SUP Cup in Lake Oswego (May 20, 2018).
Once you’ve got the SUP bug, here are some hot spots for getting started stand-up paddleboarding — all close to the city and recommended for beginners:
Sellwood Waterfront Park, Portland — Stop by and talk to the experts at Gorge Performance and head a few miles south to this easy spot, popular in the summertime. Carry your board down the stairs to the beach at the dock, or use the old boat ramp on Spokane Street. It’ll be hard not to get distracted by the great blue herons, cormorants and other bird and marine life all around.
Willamette Park, West Linn — Rent a paddleboard from eNRG Kayaking in West Linn and take it to a spot called the Willamette Narrows, which is full of rocky cliffs and tiny islands to explore — just beware of poison oak.
Cook Park, Tigard — During high season there’s a rental stand here, run by the nonprofit Tualatin Valley Riverkeepers. That makes it super convenient to slide your board down into the water at the dock and paddle along this slower section of the Willamette River.
Milo McIver Park, Estacada — Clackamas River Outfitters, in Estacada, offers several different classes and tours; try starting with a trip that starts here and heads to Barton Park, where you’ll feel like you’re deep in the wilderness but not far from the city at all. Birds of prey, deer, native fish and ancient-looking tree formations are all around.
Waterfront Park, The Dalles — You’ll be out on the glassy water in just minutes after renting gear from Celilo Paddle Co. in The Dalles (Memorial Day through Labor Day). Just 90 minutes from Portland along the Historic Columbia River Highway, the city’s miler, drier conditions make this less-crowded destination a go-to spot for playing on the water.
Drake Park, Bend — If you like urban paddling you’ll love it here, in the heart of downtown Bend with picnickers and dog-walkers all around. There’s a slow-moving current upstream will take you under a little bridge to the section of the Deschutes River that leads through the Old Mill District. Ride it downstream if you like to the Bend Whitewater Park (watch for the exit before the whitewater section) then hop on the city shuttle to return to Drake Park and do it all over again. RiverBend Park is another spot here to put in, with a wide beach and lazy section of the Deschutes. Rent a board from Stand Up Paddle Bend or Tumalo Creek.
Alton Baker Park, Eugene — SUP2UOregon makes it easy to have a SUP adventure, with everything you need included in the rental price: board, board bag, leash, net, dry bag, personal floatation device, whistle, rooftop blocks and straps to transport boards and invasive species permit, required for certain sites. Alton Baker Park, Eugene’s largest park, is a popular spot for group meetups on this lovely stretch of the Willamette.
Coffenbury Lake, Warrenton — Clatsop Paddle Company is a mobile outfitter that serves paddlers along the North Coast through guided tours, which include a beginner lesson. Experienced guides take paddlers for a stress-free day along the John Day River and some of the best paddle spots in Warrenton, Seaside, Cannon Beach and Nehalem. Locals have a regular meetup on the placid Coffenbury Lake.
Siletz Bay, Lincoln City — Rent your gear from KLG Adventures (stands for Keep Life Going) in Lincoln City and head out to Siletz Bay, which has numerous access points for paddlers as well as people fishing, kayaking, clamming and crabbing. It’s quieter with more gentle currents than nearby Devils Lake.
Know before you go: Oregon’s waterways are popular for all types of recreation, from SUPing to kayaking to boating. Be prepared for the unexpected and wear a life jacket while on the water. For life jacket recommendations, visit the Oregon Marine Board.